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Santa Anita News and Notes October 9th

•    Santa Anita Park completed week two of their six week fall meet under clear skies and warm temps this past Sunday. The main track continues to play fair with a slight edge to early speed. The surface is still on the deep and tiring side but overall is a very safe racing surface. The brilliant sophomore colt Omaha Beach did make a dull racing surface look fast on Saturday, when he sizzled six furlongs in 1:08.79 to take down the Santa Anita Sprint Championship over another very quick sprinter, Shancealot. The turf course continues to play fair as well with a slight edge to off the pace runners. The surface is hard and firm and the times are very fast. Racing resumes on Thursday, this time with a five day race week as there will be Monday racing on Columbus Day. The single ticket jackpot of the 20 cent pick six wager stands at $67,230 carryover heading into Thursday.                                                          

•    There was plenty of stakes action over the weekend and three of the key races Saturday were B/C preps, all with exciting, close finishes. The only Grade 1 was the afore mentioned Sprint Championship with Omaha Beach running down Shancealot by a head under 54 year old Mike Smith. It truly was an amazing training accomplishment for Richard Mandella, as this son of War Front hadn’t been to the post since April 13. He had never raced a distance this short in the past and the Sprint in the B/C seems to make the most sense for him on Nov. 2nd. But he can run in the Mile or the Classic should they choose. “Omaha” has never raced further than 9 furlongs in his career. The lone Grade 2 Saturday was the City of Hope Mile, named for the cancer research center in nearby Monrovia. This race was extremely close as one could throw a blanket over the top five finishers. True Valour got the victory by a nose and paid $35.80 under a sparkling ride by Drayden Van Dyke, who won three on the day, and they were all stakes. Restrainedvengence was second at 43/1 and was the longest price on the board. The time for the mile was a very quick 1:32.82. None of these horses have any shot whatsoever in the B/C Turf Mile as 8 horses were within a length and a half at the wire. The winner had not been to the post since February. Then older fillies and mares went six and a half on the main track in a Grade 3 race they call the L.A. Woman, named for a song by a rock group back in the 70’s I believe. Lady Ninja put up a gutty effort to beat Selcourt by a nose right on the wire with that man Van Dyke in the irons. It was another five lengths back to the favorite in the race, Anonymity. Lady Ninja was much the best as she had a very rough trip in this race, running down on the inside with speed to her outside most of the way. She checked at least once near the 3/8 pole, but Van Dyke muscled her between horses at the top of the lane and she just out-gutted Selcourt, who led most of the way. The winner paid $7.40 and was claimed by winning trainer Richard Baltas for just $25,000 13 months ago. Once again, these are nice sprinters, but they are not B/C material. Toinette, a Turfdom Best Bet on the day, rounded out the stakes action Saturday with an easy win in the Swingtime stakes, an ungraded affair at a mile on the lawn for older fillies/mares. She was bet heavily late and paid $3.40 to win.

•    California horses shipped east this past weekend looking for the “big money” in graded stakes and most of them did extremely well in their new surroundings. Phil D’Amato’s Bowies Hero showed his class by taking down the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile under Flavien Prat and paid a very nice $18.40 in the process.  Also at Keeneland, Stubbins knocked down the Woodford stakes for trainer Doug O’Neill and paid $17.20. Up in New York at Belmont Park, trainer Richard Baltas shipped his good sophomore Neptune’s Storm and got the money in the Hill Prince stakes and paid $22.40. And finally back at Keeneland, trainer Peter Miller shipped Spiced Perfection in a stakes called Thoroughbred Club of America and paid $10.20. It just goes to show, horses on our circuit can compete anywhere in the country, even if they don’t get the respect at the windows.

•    After all the stakes action the last two weeks at the Great Race Place, things are quieting down this week. There are only two stakes scheduled this week with the California Distaff Handicap on Saturday, a sprint on the grass at five and a half for Cal bred fillies/mares 3 and up. Phil D’Amato’s S Y Sky could very well be the favorite in this race as she has been favored 12 times in her career and is in very good form. Others to challenge her will be Don’t Sell with Mario Gutierrez up and Just Grazed Me with Geovanni Franco. On Sunday, two year old fillies will go to the post in the Anoakia stakes at six furlongs on the main track. Pure Xena and Shedaresthedevil head up that field.

•    Drayden Van Dyke won five races over the weekend to move into a tie with Abel Cedillo with a total of 7 wins after two weeks of racing. Flavien Prat, Evin Roman, and the apprentice rider Jorge Velez all have four victories. Trainer Doug O’Neill leads all conditioners with 8 wins, Phil D’Amato has 7, and Bob Baffert has 6 in the first two weeks. Baffert’s six wins come from just 14 starters and D’Amato’s win percentage is at 39%.

•      Another horse went down this past week at Santa Anita, but this was not an injury due to track conditions or two many joint injections. Kentucky Colonel, a horse in the stable of Richard Mandella, had just got back from a freshening and was out for a mere gallop and dropped dead from an apparent heart attack. Mandella said in the 40 years he has been training, he’s never lost a horse in this manner. Still a death at the track is a death at the track, and it adds the count to 33 year to date at the Great Race Place. However, I do believe everyone involved in racing in California is doing everything they can to prevent fatalities. They all know what can happen to our sport if they continue. What I really like is getting tough on the trainers that cheat, and it’s many more than what you might think. Most trainers that win at a 30% clip year after year are not playing by the rules. This past week one of those 30% conditioners got nailed up at Golden Gate Fields and received a six month suspension along with a $20,000 fine. John Martin has long been a trainer that was always one step ahead of the testing labs, but it all finally caught up with him as he had three different horses test positive for a banned medication. He was actually suspended for one year but six months was stayed with a one year probation. Hopefully that will make other trainers who are living on the edge, sit up and take notice, but I doubt it. Many of these trainers just can’t win without injecting every joint in every horse in their barn. The hay and oats trainers will be the ones who survive in the long run. The other thing that really puzzles me are the results from all the testing that is being done on the horses that have to be euthanized. A good portion of the ones at Santa Anita were last January and February during the rainy season. It has now been 8 months since those horses have passed and not one word has come out from the California Horse Racing Board. Why all the secrets? Why doesn’t the general public have any answers? Why hasn’t a study been done to see if there is a common thread to all these breakdowns? We should all be concerned for the sake of the future of our industry. Who are the trainers, who are the attending vets, what medications and injections were given to these horses? Or were they all just running over an unsafe racing surface that was never sealed properly to begin with. The public has the right to these answers, otherwise, nothing will be done and the problems will never be fixed. It’s very difficult to deal with the future when one doesn’t understand the past.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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